I Learn From You

One of the lines in Langston Hughes’ poem “Theme From English B” is

“As I learn from you, I guess you learn from me—.”

The narrator in the poem is a college student referring to a professor. The reciprocity works the same way with our children. Sometimes as parents, we think we are the teachers, but I’m both blessed and humbled by the lessons I learn from the next generation.

In 1994, Amy Biehl was a 24-year-old American working in South Africa on Post-Apartheid Reconciliation efforts  initiated by Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. The day before Amy was to return to the US, Amy offered to drive a stranded friend home to one of the townships.  The car came upon an intersection with a throng of protesters rioting over recent oppressive legislature. Three men dragged Amy from the car and stabbed her to death.

At the request of Tutu and Mandela, Bill Clinton contacted the Beihl family and asked if they would publicly forgive the murderers as they believed public reconciliation was the key to peace in  South Africa. Peter and Linda Biehl flew to Cape Town, forgave their daughters’ killers, and created The Amy Biehl Foundation as a legacy to  Amy’s service, compassion and commitment to peace.

In July of 2007, our oldest daughter Katie began studying in Cape Town through Marquette University. Katie worked at The Amy Biehl Foundation alongside two of Amy’s murderers, Ntebeko Peni and Easy Nofemela.

That fall, Tim and I visited Katie, and Ntebeko offered to give us a tour of the townships. As he drove, Katie sat in front, and Tim and I sat in back. As we approached the township, I flushed with anguish. I could not make eye contact with Ntebeko in the rear view mirror when he tried to address me.

While looking at our beautiful daughter Katie, a  red-headed version of young, blond Amy,  I listened to Ntebeko tell the story of Amy Biehl’s death. He spoke in the third person, repeatedly saying “they” as he described the actions of the murderers instead of “we.” Skin crawling, I wanted to blurt, “You did it! You killed her! Don’t say ‘they.'” Grasping my hands, I started to pray – for Amy, for the Biehls, for the people of South Africa, for the safety of my Katie.

Ntebeko stopped the car at the small Amy Biehl monument and described the scene of Amy’s death. I thought, You killed someone who is just like my daughter. I just wanted out of that car.

Later, I described my torment to Katie. She explained that Ntebeko and Easy tell the story of Amy Biehl’s death in third person as part of the process of self-reconciliation.

Katie said, “Mom, you have to forgive.” She truly did, and she still does.

So, Katie, I learn from you and from your brothers and sisters. Thank you. Keep teaching.

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